Media Studies Lecturer Dr Stamatia Portanova opened her talk with a film clip from Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up. A film made in 1966 about the discovery of a murder via the continual enlargement of a set of photographs, Dr Portanova highlighted how the protaganist in the film was able to conduct his ‘research’ via a screen and used that idea as a launching point to the main discussion points of her talk which was how there was now a shift and a multiplicity of approaches towards ‘screens’ in the digital age.
Going back to Antonioni, she points out that in the film, the photographs used were a form of representation: a form of truth. Here the photographs examined by the Thomas Hemming’s character in the film told him, and the audience, something about the real world. But as researchers now know with the advent of feminist studies and post-colonial studies that film is not a neutral medium. Film, has a point of view too. What was too follow next in Dr Portanova’s talk was a fascinating whistle-stop tour of how ideas about the ‘screen’ had changed since 1966 that questioned our relationship with the ‘screen’ and how we use it, not only in our day to day lives but how it can even influence the way we move in our day to day lives.
One of the biggest changes was how the ‘screen’ was now ubiquitous. Simply put, ‘screens’ are now everywhere from ATM machines to supermarkets to giant billboards. However, while we used to be content to just look at the screen and interpret what we see from those screens, very much like the protagonist in Blow Up, we now expect to be able to manipulate these very images we see now. Dr Portanova would highlight this very notion with a clip from Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner where we see Harrison Ford as Decker manipulating an Esper Machine in order to uncover further details in a photograph so as to help him in his hunt for rogue replicants. Made in 1982, the film predicts accurately how, we today, manipulate photos in the same way, thus highlighting a key change in our relationship with the ‘screen’. We no longer accept what is shown to us, we expect to be able to change these very images.
What is shown is no longer a faithful representation of the world; we can now construct our own reality.
Drawing upon the work of media theorist Kevin Kelly, she says this ability to ‘play’ with images is akin to gaining a new language. With the advent of software and website such as Photoshop and youtube, everyone that has access to these tools can have the chance to learn this new language. The implications of these, is that the notion of ‘authorship’ is different now. There is no longer the idea of a single author but a network of creators. This brings up issues of copyright for example, something that did not exist before the digital age.
The confluence of all these changes it seems would be represented in the giant permanent screens we see today in public squares such as the giant screen, a participant points out that exists in Walthamstow. Where people watch, or even interact with the screens and their display of images and by the very fact that these screens exist, how we change our behaviour towards it.
My reflection here is just one part of Dr Portanova’s expansive talk, however, it was the part that stuck with me after the sessions which for me was how all this seems ‘normal’. Perhaps I’m a bit wary of the rapidness of these changes, but there seems to be no ‘defining’ moment in my life on how digital technology has changed my life or changed the way I do something. It is something that has always been around and is part of the norm. My parents will remember the day they first saw a TV or saw something on TV and perhaps recount how that moment changed their behaviour but I would be hard-pressed to name a similar moment with regards to using a computer or a camera or a mobile phone. This almost ‘gentle’ creeping up of technology into our everyday lives, influencing everything from the way we think to the way we move deserves more attention and the work that Dr Portanova and her fellow colleagues do certainly attempts to discover this.
I’m not saying that we should abandon digital technology altogether, the advantages for the moment, look to me, to outweigh the disadvantages. Perhaps what I’m saying is that, the next time I marvel at how technology allows me to do something amazing, I should also perhaps think about how technology now has just changed me in a minute way that I’m not quite aware of yet or even sure I can describe…
By Lorraine Lim